Comparing Themes from Social Media and the Focus Groups

In our focus groups we found six themes that appear to influence how easily accessible public spaces are for people with sensory processing difficulties. We found that each of these were also found in the answers to the questions we asked on social media. Click on each heading to find out more about the theme from our focus groups.

Sensoryscape

“Hospitals are terrible, they have the brightest fluorescent lights, are incredibly noisy and have a lot of chemical/disinfectant smells. The machine sounds are the worst, if I’m in a hospital room I can hear machines several rooms away (good luck sleeping at all)”

Social Media Post

There are many features in the sensory landscape (or sensoryscape) of a location can make it easier or more challenging to cope with. For example, locations with multiple inputs such as ‘overlapping scents’ and ‘different layers of sounds’ were more likely to be overwhelming compared to shops with quieter music or fewer smells. In particular, the sounds, smells and visual input (e.g. lighting or displays) have an impact on how easy it is to engage with a space.

Space

“Eating at out at a restaurant is a total nightmare… especially small restaurants that are tightly packed”

Social Media Post

People identified that public places can feel overwhelming due to the lack of space, either due to the built environment (e.g. the location’s layout or design) or the number and closeness of other people. In particular, they highlighted how large numbers of people can make it harder to move around a location and lead to feeling enclosed and trapped. As in our focus groups, people identified that they often try to seek out locations when they are quieter, such as matinee performances at theatres.

Predictability

“Supermarkets also rearrange products/zones without warning making it hard or impossible to navigate”

Social Media Post

As in the focus groups, people identified that locations which are less predictable can be more challenging. For example, some supermarkets may ‘rearrange products/zones without warning’ and these unexpected changes can add to the burden of public spaces. They can make it more difficult to forward plan and disrupt people’s everyday routines.

Understanding

On our social media posts, people reported that fears of being judged or misunderstood can create an additional burden in experiencing public spaces. As we identified in another series of questions, people reported that neurotypical people do not always understand the true impact of sensory processing difficulties and may underestimate the impact they have on an individual. One person identified that gourmet restaurants can be enabling environments in part due to:

Waiting staff that actually seem to care about sensory and dietary needs. I’ve only been to a few, but they’re truly some of the only dining experiences I’ve ever fully enjoyed without stress.”

Social Media Post

Adjustments

“Places that do autism/sen hour or session, should be at better times and not just a token gesture”

Social Media Post

Two people commented that adjustments are not always suitable for the needs of autistic people, with one identifying that autism friendly hours ‘should be at better times and not just a token gesture’.

Recovery

I like [to] go to birthdays but not if I can’t have a place to go if it all gets to much

Social Media Post

Several individuals identified the importance of having a ‘sensory friendly’ place to be able to retreat and recover in when the sensory environment becomes overwhelming. People identified that locations such as museums and botanical gardens which have places for people to sit and recover were often more enabling as they can engage with the space at their own pace.

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